Document Type


Publication Date



School of Medicine


Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience



Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) are new manufactured nanomaterials with a wide spectrum of commercial applications. The durability and fiber-like dimensions (mean length 3.9 μm long × 49 nm diameter) of MWCNT suggest that these fibers may migrate to and have toxicity within the pleural region. To address whether the pleura received a significant and persistent exposure, C57BL/6J mice were exposed by pharyngeal aspiration to 10, 20, 40 and 80 μg MWCNT or vehicle and the distribution of MWCNT penetrations determined at 1, 7, 28 and 56 days after exposure. Following lung fixation and sectioning, morphometric methods were used to determine the distribution of MWCNT and the number of MWCNT fiber penetrations of three barriers: alveolar epithelium (alveolar penetrations), the alveolar epithelium immediately adjacent to the pleura (subpleural tissue), and visceral pleural surface (intrapleural space).


At 1 day 18%, 81.6% and 0.6% of the MWCNT lung burden was in the airway, the alveolar, and the subpleural regions, respectively. There was an initial, high density of penetrations into the subpleural tissue and the intrapleural space one day following aspiration which appeared to decrease due to clearance by alveolar macrophages and/or lymphatics by day 7. However, the density of penetrations increased to steady state levels in the subpleural tissue and intrapleural from day 28 - 56. At day 56 approximately 1 in every 400 fiber penetrations was in either the subpleural tissue or intrapleural space. Numerous penetrations into macrophages in the alveolar airspaces throughout the lungs were demonstrated at all times but are not included in the counts presented.


The results document that MWCNT penetrations of alveolar macrophages, the alveolar wall, and visceral pleura are both frequent and sustained. In addition, the findings demonstrate the need to investigate the chronic toxicity of MWCNT at these sites.

Source Citation

Mercer, R.R., Hubbs, A.F., Scabilloni, J.F. et al. Distribution and persistence of pleural penetrations by multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Part Fibre Toxicol 7, 28 (2010).


© 2010 Mercer et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



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